On Saturday, Aug. 13, Patti’s Hallmark in the Millville Town Center will be hosting “Hurdy Gurty,” the retired 1957 Chevrolet Fredericksburg Fire Department fire truck that is the inspiration for Hallmark’s 2011 Christmas Keepsake fire brigade-series ornament.
“I didn’t even realize that Hallmark did that,” said Patti’s Hallmark owner Patti Sudduth of the ornament series. “This is the ninth in the series of fire trucks, so every year they increase the year – this is a 1957, and next year will be a 1958.”
Sudduth said she learned of the real truck’s existence when local resident and frequent customer Millie O’Brien stopped by the store and saw the ornament.
“Millie came in one day and said her son has a fire truck and it was used as the prototype for this year’s ornament,” she said.
O’Brien’s son, Michael Boteler, a resident of Hughesville, Md., first found the truck back in 2002, when he saw it sitting in someone’s back yard.
“I bought the truck from the second owner in 2002,” said Boteler. “The owner put it in his back yard and basically never touched it for seven years. I came along and found the truck and bought it and put it back in mechanical condition right away.”
Boteler said he originally didn’t intend to restore the truck, but rather, wanted to turn it into a rollback truck.
“I had bought the truck with the intention of taking the fire body off of the truck and making it a rollback car-carrier. My wife and my father-in-law told me I was crazy and that I was making a huge mistake. I reconsidered and, in 2005, I tore the truck down, did a complete restoration, brand new paintjob and restored the truck, and I’ve been driving it ever since and been enjoying it.”
The truck is powered by a 322-cubic-inch Buick V8 engine, rated at 200 horsepower. It has a John Bean fire body with a 500-gallons-per-minute main pump and a 850-pounds-per-square-inch high-pressure fog pump that feeds the two booster reels on top of the truck.
Boteler has driven the truck to various states, including Kansas, North Carolina and New York, and even to Ocean City, Md., to show it off. He now owns three vintage fire trucks — Hurdy Gurty, a 1970 Chevrolet fire truck and a 1956 Chevrolet fire truck he’s labeled as “a future restoration project.”
“It came from a very small fire company in rural Pennsylvania. They are a three-bay firehouse with about a 15- to 20-person volunteer force. When I got the truck, it had 11,282 miles on the odometer,” he explained. “Just after I bought the truck, I actually went up to the fire company to interview some of the current firefighters. I set a picture down of the truck and one guy jumped up and said, ‘that’s Hurdy Gurty!’ Of course, the current firefighters are all young men, and they remember the truck, but they don’t remember it in the 1950’s.”
Boteler said that, so far, he hasn’t been able to find out how the truck got its signature nickname from the company where it served for nearly 40 years.
According to Boteler, almost two years ago, Hallmark contacted him, after having found his fire truck on a car-enthusiast Web site.
“They asked, ‘How would you feel about us making a Christmas ornament out of your truck?’ I was like, ‘Yeah!’ How could you not be excited about that? There are tens of thousands of fire trucks out there, and they picked mine. How cool is that?”
After Hallmark received permission from Boteler, Chevrolet and the Fredericksburg Fire Company, Boteler sent Hallmark artist Lynn Norton more than 200 pictures of the truck — capturing all the details and all angles.
“I think he did a fantastic job,” he said. “You push a little button on the back, and the little light on the top blinks on and off.”
Boteler said that, when the ornament was released on July 19, he took Hurdy Gurty to his local Hallmark store for the day.
“I showed up there and parked the truck in front of my local Hallmark store, and I had people coming up to me, wanting me to autograph the newspaper article, wanting me to autograph the boxes. It was crazy,” he said. “How cool is that for a customer to be able to say, ‘I stood in front of the truck that the model was made after.’ There are not that many people who are going to be able to that.”
Boteler said he first began his love affair with antique cars and trucks when he was in high school.
“I’ve been playing with antique cars and trucks since I was a young teenager. Mom and Dad gave me the opportunity to restore their first car, if I wanted a car to drive when I turned 16. So, that’s what I did. I got that car up and running.”
Boteler said that Hurdy Gurty has brought him, and so many others, joy.
“It’s something I can’t even put to words, what fire trucks mean to people. If I had turned the truck into a rollback, they wouldn’t even look at me… But I’ve got people who honk and take pictures when I drive by in the truck. We’re just having fun with it.”
He added that, for many years to come, Hurdy Gurty will be hanging from his family’s Christmas tree.
“My deal with Hallmark is I have just a simply little $1 contract. They, in kind, sent a box of them to give away and to have fun with. So, absolutely, I’ll have them hanging on my Christmas tree and my kids will have them hanging on their tree. It’s pretty exciting.”
Sudduth said she hopes to sell hot dogs and sodas in the parking lot during the day of the truck’s visit to her story, on Saturday.
“The ornament is here, and that’ll be out on display,” she said. “I think it’s such a neat community function, and because we are volunteer firefighters down here, I’m hoping it’ll attract some attention.”
She added that, so far, people seem excited about the truck’s visit to the store.
“I think people really have an interest in fire trucks, and I think it’ll pull people out. We had customers who came in the other day, a husband and wife, and I was telling the story of how we would be having the fire engine here. They were so excited, because the young girl’s father was a D.C. fire fighter out of Washington. She said all he could talk about is fire trucks, so they’re going to bring him down for it.
“I think the hope is that it opens up some community feeling, to have a close-knit community and have people come out for it. I know people will support Millie, and I hope they’ll support us. I’m just really honored that he would take the time and drive the truck here to do this for us.”
For more information about the event or the ornament, call (302) 539-1115. Patti’s Hallmark Shop is located at 228 Atlantic Avenue in Millville, in the Millville Town Center.